Holiday Shopping in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The holiday season is a key time for store execution. The flood of seasonal shopping means increased foot traffic, but if stores can’t succeed in converting shoppers to buyers, all the traffic is for naught. To keep conversion rates high, stores need high-quality execution during this critical time.

Unfortunately, the best-designed in-store program won’t have its intended effect if implemented partially, incorrectly, late, or at all. Therefore, it is critical for any holiday program to ensure that stores follow plans accurately and thoroughly. District managers and store managers need to be able to quickly solve problems as they arise, course-correct plans where necessary, and share best practices across their teams.

That may be more easily said than done. Geographically dispersed stores are difficult to spot-check, and busy managers on the floor may have a hard time interpreting instructions for in-store programs and reporting back on them. Most store managers do their earnest best, so shortcomings in execution are largely down to environmental circumstances.

To ensure you get the most out of your holiday programs this December — and into the new year — follow these five tips for giving store managers their best chance to execute correctly:

Provide Simple Instructions

Successful store managers spend most of their time away from their desks. The best ones prefer to be on the floor helping customers and supervising employees rather than sitting in the back room puzzling over complex e-mails.

Provide store managers with simple instructions that are easy to read, understand and remember. Try to break information into snackable pieces that can be absorbed in the spare moments between other more immediate needs. Clarify the relative urgency and importance of communications so that store personnel know what requires attention now and what can wait for a quieter time. And finally, make sure the content you’re providing is easily consumable on mobile devices from the sales floor.

Help Store Managers Help Each Other

Even the savviest retail operation organizations might miss subtleties that are discovered by employees on the ground. Encourage your store managers to share their practical experiences with programs to improve the whole company’s performance. Provide a feedback channel for store managers to make recommendations back to the planners at headquarters. Also build opportunities for store managers to communicate directly with each other to share critical tips and tricks — this is where shared photos come into their own — for making programs succeed in the hectic holiday season environment.

Close the Loop

Don’t just broadcast your plans to store managers and hope for the best. Too many retailers benefit from little or no visibility back at headquarters. Make sure store managers understand that you expect confirmation of their execution on programs as specified. That can include sharing photos of a tabletop or window display.

At the same time, try to make it easy for managers to demonstrate compliance. Every minute spent writing e-mails to headquarters is a minute away from the floor, so build feedback loops that are simple, quick and easy to execute. And again, make sure they can do it with minimum effort using a mobile device.

Measure and Track Execution

You’ve given your stores strong programs to maximize conversion. You’ve made programs easy to understand and implement in hectic environments. You’ve put stores in touch with headquarters and also each other so they can get the information they need to succeed, and you’ve created a process to easily understand which stores executed on programs, how and when.

That means you have all the pieces to track and measure program performance. Capture store feedback in a single place to measure how well your programs do in the field. Key metrics can include completion rates and timing. Also collect feedback on program effectiveness, execution difficulties or pitfalls and suggestions for future programs.

Track the same metrics on programs over time and use them to measure your execution. Set goals based on historical performance and strive for continuous improvement. Compare results across program types to identify which activities work better or worse for your business. And identify consistently underperforming stores for extra training or hand-holding on critical programs.

Think Bigger

For some retailers, the holiday season might bring in 40 percent of annual revenue. While that makes the holidays monumentally important, it also means that the rest of the season has to bring in that other 60 percent. Consider expanding these techniques into year-round habits.

Excellent store communication and execution is a key success factor in marketing and merchandising programs of all stripes — and during all seasons. Use this holiday season as an opportunity to improve execution not only for December, but year-round.

Damian Cowell is the director of product management at Inkling and has more than 15 years of experience in building B2B technology. Started in 2009, Inkling builds software that enables businesses to power their desk-less workforce. Damian holds a master’s degree in engineering from Cambridge University.

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